There are almost as many desktops as Linux distributions. Each one usually incorporates one or more by default: in the case of Ubuntu we find Unity, in openSUSE it is traditional to see KDE, in Fedora we have GNOME and in Linux Mint its star graphical environment is Cinnamon. They all usually have something in common: they demand a lot of resources from the machine that executes them.
Obviously, not all computers can reliably move these desks. To counteract these heavy graphical environments, there are very light options. If you have a limited power equipment (or an old one that you want to breathe new life into), then you should try any of the seven lightweight desks that we are going to recommend in this article.
XFCE is an open source desktop written in C. Its main features are its speed and low weight, which is expected to cause fewer problems for the CPU and RAM (in fact you only need a processor with a speed of at least 500 MHZ and 256 MB of volatile memory). It is made up of separately structured parts, which are combined to create a complete graphical environment.
The current version of desktop environment XFCE is 4.12, released on February 28, 2015. Introduced window previews and list mode by pressing Alt + Tab key combination, docking windows in the corners of the desktop, a new dialog to set the wallpaper with support for different backgrounds in each workspace, support for tabs in the Thunar file manager, a new plugin for power management and support for Blu-Ray recording in xfBurn, among others.
MATE is another lightweight graphical environment that emerges as a fork of GNOME2. When GNOME3 was released, many users and media criticized it harshly. Its acceptance was not good by those who were used to the previous version, and this graphical environment allowed to continue using it as if time had not passed.
At present it is one of the most acclaimed lightweight desks, both for how customizable it is and for its stability. It is written in C, C ++, and Python, has surprisingly low CPU consumption, and doesn’t weigh heavily on RAM. Speaking of the devil, you need just 512MB of volatile memory and a 750MHz Intel Pentium III processor.
Enlightenment or E is more like a window manager than a desk itself. Its main advantage is that it can be used together with typical programs from other heavier environments, such as GNOME and KDE. When used with your own set of libraries, known as Enlightenment Foundation Libraries or EFL, it becomes a desktop in its own right.
The latest version is E17, and has been totally rewritten. It is an extremely lightweight desktop, so much so that it works surprisingly well even on ARM processors (it can be installed on a Raspberry Pi). Now, it is something complicated to configure and understand by those who are not used to it. It needs only 64MB of RAM and a processor of at least 200MHz, making it the least demanding on the list.
This desktop environment appeared for the first time together with Deepin Linux. It affects one of the main aspects that Linux has been criticized the most in recent years: the ugly design issue, incorporating a very attractive visual appearance. It also has a series of shortcuts on the screen that bring the system configuration closer to a few clicks.
Despite being a graphical environment with a very careful design, it’s surprisingly light. I have had the opportunity to test it even on netbooks, and the truth is that it behaves very well despite the reduced capacities of the equipment. It needs 1GB of RAM and at least an Intel Pentium IV processor to run.
Sugar started out as an interactive learning initiative for children. It was written in Python as part of the Sugar on a Stick project, one of many child-specific distros, which is part of the One Laptop per Child initiative. As you can imagine, these laptops are quite limited, making this desk light enough to run smoothly. In fact, to work it needs 512 MB of RAM and a processor with at least 400 MHz speed.
Some of its features include a very simple design, cross-platform in nature (can be installed on Linux and Windows), easy to modify, and offers anyone who knows how to program in Python to contribute to the project. Its main disadvantage, however, is not being able to multitask with it.
LXQT arrives for replace LXDE. Although its predecessor was based on GTK and Razor-qt, this new iteration of this graphical environment combines GTK with pure Qt. It can be obtained in different distributions, with Mageia as one of its main supporters.
What it does share with its previous denomination is to be extremely undemanding on resources, which makes it an ideal solution to install on limited or old equipment that you want to revive. The environment requires a minimum of 256 MB of RAM and a Pentium 4 processor to run.
Pixel was born as the “official” desktop for Raspberry Pi and Raspbian, although now it can be installed on any computer. It is a graphical environment that, like XFCE and LXQT, ask for very little: with a computer that has 512 MB of RAM and an i386 architecture processor you have more than enough.
Considering where it comes from, it stands to reason that this is a good choice for limited teams. My Raspberry Pi 2 works wonders with Raspbian and Pixel, so let’s imagine what it can do with a somewhat more powerful processor than the ARM chip in this minicomputer.
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